Q: I recently booked four tickets between Milwaukee, Wis., and New Orleans, La., using my Delta SkyMiles so that my husband, son and my son's friend could fly to our cruise port. All was well, but then my son's friend's parents decided that they would not get him a passport, as they had promised, so we had to make changes to the cruise and the airline to accommodate a new guest.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines was great about making the change — just some correspondence from our travel agent did the trick. However — and I think you know what is coming — Delta is refusing to make a name change. Its policy is never to make name changes. Delta offered to allow me to re-deposit the miles for a $150 charge per ticket, and then let me re-purchase the ticket using SkyMiles. But the cost for the ticket has quadrupled, going from 25,000 miles to 100,000 miles.
A: Wow, you really painted yourself into a proverbial corner on this one. I'm not sure if things would have been much different if you'd paid for your tickets with real money, as opposed to miles. Delta's rules are uniformly strict, no matter how you settle the bill. It won't change a name, which, by the way, is an industry-wide policy.
But you would expect Delta to take a close look at your case, if for no other reason than that you are a loyal customer. The airline is hitting you with two fees for changing your mind — first, the "re-deposit" fee and then the markup for booking tickets so close to your travel date. And finally, there's a very good chance no seats will be available, meaning that all this was for nothing.
I can't blame you for feeling like giving up.
The solution an airline might recommend is booking completely refundable, flexible airline tickets. But those can be two to four times more expensive than an advance-purchase fare, and they're priced for business travelers on an expense account — not passengers who are on their way to a leisure cruise.
My solution? Try sending a brief, polite email, and if that doesn't work, appeal to a manager. I list names, email addresses and phone numbers on my customer service wiki (http://elliott.org/contacts/delta-air-lines/).
I contacted Delta on your behalf. As it turns out, the new ticket will only cost you 50,000 miles. Changes in redemption levels are not unusual, which is why it's important to check back often to see if you can get a better deal. As an exception, Delta agreed to waive the $150 re-issue fee and allow you to re-deposit the miles to your account at no additional charge.
Next time, make sure you have your passport before booking your tickets.
(Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, which he answers as quickly as possible, but because of a backlog of cases, your story may not be published for several months.)
The Travel Troubleshooter